Matthew 5:1–20 | Work of Christmas Series | Third Sunday of Epiphany | January 25, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN
This past fall, I had a talk with my doctor (why am I starting to sound like a pharmecutical commercial?). We both had been looking at my blood pressure and how it was slowly creeping upward. I knew that both my parents have high blood pressure and we talked about whether or not it was time to put me on a medication to lower my blood pressure. I was right on the line that determined if I needed to start the drug regimen.
I did decide to go with the drugs and thankfully, my blood pressure is back to normal. But one of things that I decided to start doing is laying off the salt. I never did use a lot of salt before, but I decided to not take any chances.
When ever we think of salt these days we tend to think of it as either something that flavors bland food or more often than not, as a bad part of our daily diet. Doctors and dieticians tell us about the amount of salt in our processed food is bad for our health leading to…high blood pressure.
So when we read today’s text about Jesus wants us to be salt and light in the world, it’s hard to understand what Jesus was talking about. Salt is something that we buy at the store for a buck, or it’s the thing that local governments put on their roads to melt ice during the winter.
But salt has a much larger role in world history. I was doing some prep work on this sermon and stumbled on a website that talked about the role salt in ancient times. Here are some examples of the importance of salt:
The words salary and salad derive from the word salt. Salary meant being able to buy salt and people used to salt their vegetables before eating them.
Salt has a major role in many religions. In fact, in Orthodox Christianity when a child is baptized, salt is placed on their lips as a sign to ask God to perserve this child.
In Leonardo daVinci’s Last Supper, Judas is pictured knocking over salt, which was a sign of bad luck or evil.
In Buddhism, salt wards of evil spirits.
Finally, salt led the creation of a nation when Mahatma Ghandi lead a march to the sea to get free salt rather than paying the salt taxes imposed by the British Colonial rulers.
The most important example of the use of salt is that it was used as a preservative. In the days before refridgeration, salt was used to keep things from spoiling. It is mostly likely that this is what Jesus was talking about.
When Jesus calls his disciples to be salt of the earth, Jesus is calling them to be a community that does good works to give glory to God, to be a community that is set apart to follow God’s ways to share the good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ. By the way, that world “salvation” also derives from salt.
What does it mean that this church is called to be salt in the world? Let me answer that by talking for a moment about SBNRs.
What’s SBNR? It’s an acronymn which stands for Spiritual but not Religious. There are the people who might seek God in the world, but are not formally tied to any church or any religion in particular.
Mainline Protestant denominations have spent tons of money trying to understand this odd beast. There have been books and conferences where this is the topic. Bloggers talk of them wistfully because they seem devoid of so many of the pitfalls of organized religion. It would be nice to follow Jesus without having to deal with the imperfect nature of his followers.
The SBNR folks tend to be the kind that say they find God in nature. It could be a georgeous sunset, or the shade of a forest of giant trees, or being on top of a mountain.
The thing about SBNR thinking is that we come to seek God…and that’s about it. We can find God without organized religion. We can be good without the church.
What does this have to do with being salt in the world? Well, I think the desire by Jesus for people to be salt in the world was to call us to be and do things differently. Those of us who follow Jesus are called to leave the saltshakers of our own making and do good works for the glory of God in the wider world. We don’t do good works to find God, we do good works to honor God.
The SBNR approach has some good thoughts and we can at times find God in creation. But at times it can be too limiting. It is focused on the self, on God doing something for us without us having to do anything. Being a salty church is different. One grain of salt is not going to make any difference. But more and more grains make a difference, it can preserve meat or flavor a salad or keep us from sliding off the road.
First Christian Church of St. Paul exists to be salt in the East Metro. We are called to show a different way of being and doing in the world, to honor the one that is the author of all creation.
This past Thursday, John and Jan Paulson and myself took part in a homeless survey. Washington County was taking part in the annual Point In Time Survey, a statewide event where people go out to find the homeless and determine what services are needed in a given area. Being a suburban county, Washington is slowly starting up it’s service to locate those who don’t have a home.
We were split up in groups of two to go to different areas of the county. My partner and I ended up going to Lake Elmo area. Because it was a sparse area, we never took a survey at all. That said, we did leave information at various places such as libraries and the rest area on Interstate 94 just as enter Minnesota. According to the janitor there, a number of people have stayed at the rest area, some as long as a year.
We didn’t do this to seek God. But those of us who went did this because we love God. Representing the county, we couldn’t talk about God, but for the members of this community, we were being salt in the context.
Salt is about putting the Work of Christmas into action. Being a salty church means that we are challenged and compelled to be a different kind of person in the world; in our words and deeds pointing to the Risen Christ.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
When we invite people to church, we are being salt. When we care for homeless families we are being salt. When we do God’s will, we are being salt.
Don’t eat a lot of salt for health reasons, but BE salt for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.